After driving a pickup truck for the first time, I now get why they're the best-selling vehicles in the US

  • Pickup trucks are the best-selling vehicles in the US.
  • Despite this, I have never understood the appeal of the pickup truck.
  • But after spending 10 days with a Jeep Gladiator pickup, I finally understand it.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

I was shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- the first time I discovered that pickup trucks have handily outsold passenger cars here in the US for the past couple of years. I knew pickups were popular, but not that popular. This ignorance was most certainly rooted in my own personal taste in vehicles. 

See, I have never understood the appeal of a pickup truck. I have never understood why anyone -- an individual who hauls nothing on a regular basis -- would ever need something as giant as a pickup when perfectly good sedans, wagons, and even crossovers exist. Seems like a load of wasted space to me! 

In college, my European roommate wondered aloud if all the American pickup drivers she saw on our roads were farmers, because apparently that's who drives pickups in Belgium. I attempted to explain the US infatuation with pickups and other big vehicles, though I privately agreed with her.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon87 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon.Kristen Lee/Business Insider

But the numbers don't lie. According to automotive sales and data statistics site GoodCarBadCar, pickup trucks were the best-selling cars in the US in 2019.

Ford, coming in first, sold 896,526 F-Series pickups. Ram sold 633,694 pickups. Chevrolet sold 575,569 Silverados. That is a massive, massive number of trucks. Maybe all those country and western songs about dudes loving their pickups are onto something. 

So, after about seven years of covering the automotive industry, there was no point in avoiding it any longer: I, feeling silly, booked myself a pickup truck, borrowing a Jeep Gladiator Rubicon mid-size pickup for a few days. You can read the full review here.  My first hour in the truck, exiting Brooklyn, was embarrassing. Not only was the thing garish and orange and with blocky black trim, I felt like people were staring at me. I knew that I could have easily fit all my luggage in a comparable SUV and they probably all knew it, too.

The unessential truth of the whole situation weighed heavily on me. I felt like I was cosplaying a Tim McGraw song.  And then I was struck by an even worse thought: Did people think I was over-compensating for something?

Oh, no

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon104 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon.Kristen Lee/Business InsiderBut then I shut up and let the Jeep do its thing. It doesn't do to review something with preconceived notions and biases already written out in your head. 

And so, the resulting days spent with the Gladiator were ... extremely normal. I expected the balance to be way off when driving it around since there's virtually no weight over the back wheels and all the weight over the front.

I expected to have that sensation kicked into me every time I took a turn: You're driving a pickup truck! You're driving a pickup truck! You're driving a pickup truck!

Down a dirt road!  But in reality? I basically forgot I had a five-foot bed sticking out behind the passenger cabin.

I was reminded only when I had to change lanes on the highway (the bed is big and difficult to see around) and pulling out of parallel parking spots (the backup camera is super handy).  The Gladiator was comfortable. It was easy to drive.

I had no trouble spending a few hundred miles in it. I emerged feeling ready for a few hundred more.

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The interior leathers were nice. The Gladiator had heated seats and a heated steering wheel.

USB ports. Cupholders. Cruise control.

A quality stereo system. Front and rear cameras. Dual-zone climate controls.

In short, it came with all the bells and whistles that a nicely outfitted SUV would also come with. And with an MSRP of £62,000, it was even priced as such.  During the course of my 10-day loan, I only needed to use -- truly use --the bed once.

My boyfriend's parents needed us to move two pieces of furniture, so we packed up the truck with all our luggage and tossed the two director's chairs in the bed. And then we drove everything across the state of Vermont. This would not have been possible in a crossover or SUV.

There was no way it would have all fit. Other than that one time, though, the bed stayed empty. But this is the new reality of pickup trucks in the US, I suppose.

No longer are they rough work tools, reserved exclusively for job sites. Even if you have zero intention of hauling anything in your pickup, you can now get one and reasonably expect to ride around in something with the feel of a luxury SUV.

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Just for fun, I went on Ford's site to build myself a 2020 F-150. After selecting the SuperCab option and giving it a 5.5-foot bed, I then optioned it out with 10-way power driver and passenger seats with heat and memory, a premium audio system, a 360-degree camera, a hard and folding pickup box cover, Rapid Red exterior paint, a blue-accented interior, 17-inch forged wheels that I just liked, a heated steering wheel, and dual-zone temperature control. 

The F-150 also came with tech like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot information system, pro trailer backup assist, and reverse sensing system.  The final cost for my silly truck? £71,750. To put that into perspective, that's a mere few thousand dollars shy of a Mercedes-Benz GLS SUV -- but with way more utility to boot. 

But I get it now. I do. What with gas being as cheap as it is and automakers letting you option your truck out like it's a living room on wheels -- why not, right?

Why go small when you can go big? Surround yourself with this cocoon of protection and cushiness that takes just one finger to drive. I would just advise against spending beyond your means to get it. 

If you are a pickup truck owner and you are reading this, know that I don't know your life. Maybe you use the bed all the time. I don't know! 

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But maybe you're like me: someone who finds just as much utility in a sedan but is holding out for that one instance when the pickup becomes handy.

Maybe to help your friend move just that one time. Maybe to bring the mulch back from the store because you spontaneously decided to do your own yard work this year. Maybe to take home that free coffee table you spotted on someone's curb while out running errands. 

The lesson I learned is that we just don't know when life will suddenly spring a pickup situation on us, so why not be prepared? My mistake in Brooklyn was thinking that people who don't haul stuff regularly also shouldn't need a pickup.  Pickups afford us a rainy-day option.

It is this option when paired with the duality of also being a luxury vehicle, that makes them so alluring. In a way, yes, it sort of does condemn the whole point of the pickup truck to an afterthought.  But the security of knowing that a big bed is available to you just in case you need it?

That's what makes the whole exercise worth it. 

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